A MAJOR campaign to free children across the world from violence and exploitation has been backed by the Government.
More than 215 million youngsters are involved in child labour globally, with 115 million of them in hazardous work.
Joe Costello, minister for trade and development, is supporting calls by the ChildFund Alliance to get world leaders to help end the slave labour.
"Ending violence and exploitation of children is crucial given the devastating effects of both on children's development," the junior minister said at the launch of ChildFund Ireland's 'free' campaign.
"Violence and exploitation also hamper our ability to develop peaceful, prosperous and just societies.
"Ireland has always placed human rights at the heart of our foreign policy.
"Our new policy for international development - One World, One Future, commits Ireland to protecting the rights of children, including by stepping up our efforts to ensure that children are no longer forced into armed conflict."
ChildFund Ireland revealed almost half of all children experience some form of physical violence before they reach the age of eight, while 150 million girls and 73 million boys worldwide are raped or subject to sexual violence each year.
Michael Kiely, chief executive, said the worldwide campaign will create awareness of the very serious issues affecting children in different parts of the world.
"We also want to put pressure on world leaders to include the 'freeing of children from violence and exploitation' when deciding their global priorities, when the Millennium Development Goals conclude in 2015," he added.
"We believe this issue cannot be ignored for another generation and have started a global advocacy campaign asking governments to ensure that children are free from violence and exploitation."